Six seasons removed from making history as the first #8 seed to win the Stanley Cup, the L.A. Kings are in the record books once again. However, this year it’s for their unfortunate demise at the hands of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights, as the Kings failed to pick up a single win in their first-round series and become the first team to be swept by an expansion franchise. While only allowing seven goals all series, the squad from Los Angeles only found the scoresheet three times in the four-game sweep. Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was made to look like the second coming of a sturdily-built brick wall or a Shooter Tutor with no holes; he was simply unbeatable. The Kings popgun offence looked atrocious throughout the series, with only four forwards able to scratch the scoresheet.
Las Vegas Golden Knights
The offense finally slowed down on day seven of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with goaltenders stealing the show. Connor Hellebuyck led the Jets to a 2-0 victory, the Capitals getting back into their series and the Knights became the first expansion team to win a playoff series.
Here’s how it went down:
Previously I looked at the Eastern Conference and previewed the playoff picture. Now it’s time to look at the other side and preview what to expect from the Western Conference. The West is set up with talented teams mixed with veteran groups that have been to the dance before. There are only two teams that I see as favourites to make it all the way, but there’s always a chance for an upset, especially when there are more experienced teams. Here’s a preview of the Western Conference playoffs.
What percentage chance would you give the Oilers of making the playoffs?
Well, as it sits right now, they are five points back of San Jose for the final playoff spot which doesn’t seem impossible. But look at little deeper at it and you’ll see that they need to jump over five other teams to get to the Sharks and they’ve played the same or more games than every single one of those teams.
Now it’s early, but the season creeps up on you and if they don’t start making up ground in a hurry then they can kiss another playoff appearance goodbye.
These next three games against Boston, Buffalo, and Arizona are huge. Those are three teams you should beat if you’re a playoff caliber club. For right now, I’d say they have a 15% chance of making the playoffs, but if they win these next three games, I would up that to 35%, which might be a little generous. The bottom line: they need a damn winning streak.
Who has a better chance of making the playoffs: Vegas or Vancouver?
Vegas currently sits atop the surprisingly awful Pacific Division with just 27 points while Vancouver is holding onto a wild card spot with 22 points.
Both teams are very well coached and are very committed to playing strong defensive games and just suffocating the opposition to some extent.
Vancouver might have more skill, but their goaltending concerns me and I’m not sure how long this young core can continue to produce the way they have. Vegas, on the other hand, has managed to continue to stockpile points with no NHL caliber goaltender. When Fleury or Subban come back, it might be enough to keep them competitive. For that reason alone, I’ll give Vegas a better chance to make the playoffs but I don’t think we’ll see either make it in all likelihood.
Would you be in favor of going to ten minutes of 3-on-3 overtime to kill the shootout?
Absolutely! Tell me one positive about the shootout that 3-on-3 OT does not bring? It showcasing individual skill but doesn’t completely take out the team aspect and it’s way more exciting. I would take it a step further and say just eliminate the clock. Go 3-on-3 until someone scores!
I still have a bit of a soft spot for the shootout and it’s better than settling for a tie, but it doesn’t give fans nearly the same thrill as 3-on-3.
Throughout the past week, there has been talk of the Blue Jackets looking to add another top-six winger. Of course, they missed out on Matt Duchene but their interest in him was well known and now that he’s been dealt, there isn’t another big name that’s rumored to be available.
Frank Seravalli’s Trade Bait board over at TSN is usually a pretty solid indicator of who could be on the move. Right now he has two wingers at the top of his list, Evander Kane and James Neal.
I’ll start with Neal, who’s off to a good start with the Vegas Golden Knights. Neal checks a lot of the boxes that the Jackets are looking for; he can skate, has a physical edge and is a volume shooter. While he would look good, I’m not sure if he’s a fit.
First off, I think the Jackets are looking for more of a long-term fit and Neal, whose contract is up at the end of the year, would likely be more of a rental. Would the Jackets want to pay a hefty price for half a year of James Neal? Doubtful. But on the other hand, with the likes of Jenner, Atkinson, and Bjorkstrand all up at season’s end, maybe having some financial flexibility would be a good idea.
The Golden Knights are also loaded with defensemen and wouldn’t want to add another one. That’s a problem because one of the biggest trade chips the Blue Jackets have is defenseman Ryan Murray.
Evander Kane is the other name Seravalli has listed. Obviously, Evander Kane is more known for his behavior off the ice, but if the Jackets can look past that they might be able to add a really strong forward.
Kane already has 9 goals this year and he’s been one of Buffalo’s best forwards. In terms of 5v5 possession, he ranks 3rd in most categories and he faces the second toughest competition amongst all Sabres. He’s also proven that he can contribute to the power play, an area the Jackets could use some help. His 5.04 PPP/60 would rank second the Blue Jackets behind only Sonny Milano.
The price might be high, and similar to Neal, Kane’s deal expires at the end of the year.
Other names on Franks list include David Perron, Tomas Vanek, and Rick Nash. None of those names really seem like a dream fit and as I mentioned earlier, with a lot of players needing raises come July, the Jackets need to be careful with how they handle things.
The type of player they might be looking to acquire may not actually be available right now, given how many teams are still in the playoff hunt. I wouldn’t expect Jarmo Kekalainen to make a move until the new year, at the very earliest.
Is Steven Stamkos back to being the “Old Stammer”?
The entire Tampa Bay Lightning are incredibly hot right now, in large part thanks to the combo of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos, of course, played just 17 games last season and has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons. But is the elite goal scoring Stamkos back? Well, I would argue he never really left. When you look at Stammers numbers, there has never been a decline.
Even though he played just 17 games last year, he still put up 9 goals and 11 assists. Even in the years when he’s been hurt, his points per game was never worse than 0.83.
Stamkos’ ability to score never seriously declined, he just struggled with injury. Now that he’s back to being 100%, I think we can expect the 27-year-old to put up elite numbers for a long long time.
Are Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones going to be NHLers down the road? Or do the Oilers need to continue adding to their d-core?
I haven’t watched Bear and Jones too much over their junior and brief pro-careers, but what I have seen out of the two is very promising. I think it’s very likely that the two will be NHL players in the near future. Are they top four quality? That’s yet to be determined.
With that being said, it’s win now time in Edmonton, if you haven’t noticed. Let’s focus on right now.
When Sekera comes back they’ll have:
So if they do acquire someone, who would you take out of the lineup? Or maybe there’s someone out of that group you trade? They have 6 capable NHL d-men, but I do believe there’s an upgrade to be made on the second pair. I think they’re one more d-man away from having a Stanley Cup caliber back-end.
I also don’t think the type of trade they’re looking for can be made in-season. So, my final answer is Bear and Jones will one day be NHLers, we just don’t know how good and for now, they need another d-man.
What’s a bigger surprise: Oilers & Habs struggles or the success of the Canucks & Golden Knights?
As much as I’m surprised that the Habs and Oilers aren’t playing better, teams go through slumps. It’s been a bad month for both of these teams, but I believe that Carey Price will eventually start stealing games for Montreal and the Oilers offense will click and they’ll start winning as well.
The Golden Knights doing THIS? It’s insane. Nobody saw this coming and not only is it good for the growth of the game in Las Vegas because winning attracts fans, but it’s good for George McPhee. Nevermind the obvious trade candidates like Nate Schmidt and James Neal, but players like Lucas Sbisa, William Karlsson, and Cody Eakin are becoming worth more and more with each passing game. That’s just as big for the future of this team as the wins are.
The Canucks are playing good, but I don’t care because eventually they’ll lose something crazy like 8 of 10 and plummet to the basement. It’s coming, trust me.
You could go read a magazine or go to major websites for season previews… but then it’s the same thing that tens of thousands of people read. So here is the start of my unique division by division season previews, which get you set for upcoming NHL season. If you want to check out my Central Preview, you can find it HERE.
FIRST PLACE – ANAHEIM DUCKS
Add: R.Miller – F.Beauchemin
Lost: S.Theodore (t) – J.Bernier (fa) – N.Thompson (fa) – C. Stoner (e) – R. Garbutt (fa)
They won the division last year despite a slumping offense, which came 18th in goals for. In a year where they struggled to score, their goaltending and defense stepped up in a big way. Their team GAA was 3rd and their core is still intact. Gibson will be back between the pipes while Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen, and Manson will all be back on the blueline.
If there’s one concern with this team heading into the year it’s that the offense that finished 18th didn’t get better. While I do consider it a win that they didn’t lose any key pieces, especially considering the expansion draft, I would have liked to see them add an extra piece. They’ll need to rely on some bounce-back performances if they want to retain their Pacific Division crown.
I’m banking on that to happen. I think with the number of weapons they have, two years of below average offensive production isn’t going to happen. Expect another year of first in the Pac-8 for the Ducks.
SECOND PLACE – EDMONTON OILERS
Add: R.Strome – J.Jokinen – T.Rattie
Lost: J.Eberle (t) – B.Pouliot (bo) – D. Desharnais (fa) – G. Reinhart (e) – T. Pitlick (fa)
A quiet offseason in Oil Country, but most of the moves they made I consider a wash. Eberle simply couldn’t come back for another year with this team and while Strome lacks the same goal-scoring ability that Eberle had, he has some upside.
Offensively this team will be fine, they came 8th last year in GF/60 and there is really no reason to expect that number to drop. In fact, with McDavid and Draisaitl a year older and players like Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins looking for bounce-back years, they could score more than the 2.96 goals per game they had last year.
There are a few concerns for me when it comes to this team and it’s why I don’t have them passing the Ducks.
How will their defense hold up with Andrej Sekera out until at least the new year? It’s unclear how Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse will handle a heavier workload.
Also, this team stayed very healthy last year. Can they repeat that string of good health? Injuries are bound to hit every team at some point, does this team have the depth to overcome a significant injury? That still remains unclear.
Lastly, can Cam Talbot make it through another year starting close to 70 games? I’m not saying last year was a fluke by any means, but Talbot would have been a Vezina finalist last year, does he have that in him again?
Question marks aplenty, but I believe the young talent of this team can push them to another year with home-ice advantage in the postseason.
THIRD PLACE – CALGARY FLAMES
Add: T. Hamonic – S. Foo – M. Smith – E. Lack
Lost: B. Elliott (fa) – C. Johnson (fa) – D. Engelland (e) – L. Smid (fa) – L.Bouma (fa) – D. Wideman (fa)
Let’s start with what I like about the Flames heading into this season. The addition of Travis Hamonic is great and gives them an elite top four. The price they paid was steep, but the team is in win now mode, so I have no problems with it.
They also signed Spencer Foo, who could be a NHLer a few years from now, but I don’t believe he’ll have an impact this year.
Adding to their d-core, which was already a strength, as well as putting another winger in the prospect pool are both good moves. The problem with the Flames heading into this year is that they really didn’t address their major needs.
They still have a very poor right side. I don’t have confidence in Frolik & Brouwer to play on the team’s top line. Could they add someone mid-season? Absolutely. Wingers can be found around the trade deadline fairly easily so maybe this is a whole they could still look to fill.
They also didn’t improve their goaltending in my eyes. Mike Smith is 35 years old and not getting any better, while Eddie Lack is coming off a concussion riddled stint with Carolina that also saw minimal success. Just looking at last season, the combined GAA of Smith and Lack was 5.56 while compared to the combined GAA of Johnson and Elliot which was 5.14.
Those numbers may get better for Smith and Lack that they have a better team in front of them, but it wasn’t a big enough improvement in my eyes, especially given some of the marquee goaltenders available this offseason.
A few good moves and they can bank on some improvement from their young core, but not enough to catch either Edmonton or Anaheim.
FOURTH PLACE – ARIZONA COYOTES
Add: J. Demers – N. Hjalmarsson – D. Stepan – N. Cousins – A. Raanta
Lost: S. Doan (r) – Z. Michalek (fa) – J. McGinn (t) – C. Murphy (t) – L. Dauphin (t) – A. DeAngelo (t)
This may look absolutely crazy, but they had the best offseason of any team in their division. We already knew that they had one of the better young cores in the league, and now they actually have a solid group of veterans to play along with them.
Niklas Hjalmarsson was a sensational pickup. Some would argue he was the Hawks best d-man at times, and they got him at a great price. Factor in the great trade they made to grab Jason Demers along with the likes of Ekman-Larsson and Goligoski and you might be able to say they have one of the best d-cores in their division.
Up front, they added Derek Stepan who gives them an experienced centerman who can produce. Other than that their depth chart is littered with young talent and they’ll need some of those rookies to step up. There are high hopes for Clayton Keller, Dylan Strom, and Christian Dvorak. If they perform like some expect, the ‘Yotes could have a very succesful year.
In net, I like the addition of Antti Raanta and think him and Louis Domingue could be more than competent this year.
I don’t think they have enough to push into a playoff spot this year, but the Yotes are coming and might be a playoff team sooner rather than later.
FIFTH PLACE – LA KINGS
Add: M.Cammalleri – D.Kuemper
Lost: B.Bishop (t) – B.McNabb (e) – M.Greene (bo) – D. Setoguchi (fa)
The Kings are coming into this season with more or less the same roster that has only won 1 playoff game in the past 3 years.
Their offense finished 25th last year and all they did was add veteran Mike Cammalleri, who is coming off a 10 goal campaign. Jeff Carter had to almost single-handedly carry this team’s offense last year, scoring a whopping 16% of his teams’ goals. The only other player to score 20 was Tanner Pearson (24).
Anze Kopitar also had a horrible year. His shooting percentage as 2.2% lower than it’s ever been, but even if he would have shot at his average percent, he wouldn’t have hit 20 goals. He’ll need to be better if the Kings want any hope of snagging a wild-card spot.
If there’s one beacon of hope, it’s that a full year of both Jonathan Quick and Tyler Toffoli may be able to boost them up the standings.
All in all, I didn’t see enough improvement to give me any reason to believe that this team can pass anyone for a Pacific Division playoff spot, and given how strong the Central is, I don’t like their odds at a Wild Card spot either.
SIXTH PLACE – SAN JOSE SHARKS
Add: No Notable Players
Lost: P. Marleau (fa) – M. Mueller (t) – D. Schlemko (e) – M. Haley (fa)
With no additions to this point and having lost Marleau along with a solid depth d-man in Schlemko, it was not a great offseason in San Jose.
Joe Thornton is another year older, and he’s coming off a season in which he struggled to produce much offensively. Brent Burns got hot early, but shot well over his career sh%. During the last 20 games of the regular season, we saw Burns struggle, only scoring 10 points. When Burns struggled, so did the team, going 9-11-0 during Burns’ slump.
I have no questions about Martin Jones, even though both his GAA and SV% took dips last year, he should be solid again. But the cast in front of Jones? Not as strong as they once were.
To make the playoffs they’ll likely have to grab a Wild Card spot, and I just don’t see enough on this roster to beat out the crazy strong Central Division teams.
SEVENTH PLACE – VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Add: EVERYONE GOT ADDED
Lost: THEY HAD NO PLAYERS LAST YEAR
You can expect a lot of 2-1 and 1-0 games this year from the Golden Knights. I really like the d-core that they managed to grab through the expansion process. Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt are all relatively young and can all play competently in a team’s top 4. Mix them in with vets like Jason Garrison and Deryk Engelland and you have a d-core that’s better than a handful of other teams in the league.
Between the pipes, Marc-Andre Fleury can still hold a crease down. His numbers weren’t great in the regular season, but he played like his old self in the playoffs which is an encouraging sign. Even if he falters, they also have Calvin Pickard, who I was shocked to see available. The 25-year-old put up a 2.98 GAA and .904 SV% on an absolutely horrible Avalanche team. He could be a real surprise for VGK fans next year.
Up front, well, they aren’t good. They basically have a team full of 3rd liners with a few exceptions like Jonathan Marchessault and James Neal. There is some upside in guys like Vadim Shipachyov and Alex Tuch, but goal scoring will be a struggle.
I don’t think they’ll finish last, I think they’ll be too strong defensively, but the lack of goal scoring will keep them close to the basement.
EIGHTH PLACE – VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Add: S.Gagner – A.Burmistrov – T. Vanek – M.Del Zotto – P.Wiercioch – A.Lindback
Lost: R.Miller (fa) – L.Sbisa (e) – D.Shore (fa) – P.Larsen (fa)
Are they tanking? Are they trying to compete for some reason? Who knows!
The Canucks are officially a laughing stock. The butt of every joke just like the Oilers and Sabres once were. The only difference: those teams knew they were going to be bad. What the Canucks are doing is just straight confusing.
They bring in Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto and Thomas Vanek which makes no sense. Those types of players don’t help you compete, they help you go from 29th to 27th and diminish your lottery chances.
Those additions also take playing time from guys like Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser or even guys like Nikolay Goldobin and Brendan Gaunce, who need to figure out the NHL game in a hurry if they want to have prolonged careers.
The offseason made no sense, the season will go horribly and that cycle will likely continue until the organization can find a definitive direction.
Oilers fans are split.
In one corner, you have those who watched Jordan Eberle this past season and are upset. So much so that they want him left unexposed and shipped off the Las Vegas during the June 21st expansion draft (or sooner if at all possible).
In the other corner, there are the fans who have a soft spot for Ebs and look past his poor playoffs, soft board work and lackluster defensive play. Those fans point to the hard numbers and show that he still produces at a very good level (whether or not he produces those points against good teams is beside the point).
Then, somewhere in the middle, are those who have been hollering for years that Jordan Eberle is not a player that fits here long-term (myself included). Although he scores, he really doesn’t do anything else, and for someone in his spot, he should be scoring a lot more. Yet his value has never been lower.